Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) have been treating children suffering from lead poisoning in Zamfara since 2010. Unsafe mining and ore processing have been fingered as the root causes of the lead poisoning crisis in the State. Many Zamfara children have died, while others are going through the slow process of detoxification and facing severe mental retardation after exposure to toxic lead.


The slaughter in Zamfara’s fields of gold, the kidnappings on Abuja-Kaduna road and the general insecurity in the land is not unexpected. These are the shapes of what is coming. To students of history and politics, this chaotic turn into anarchy and loss of control, is what obtains in a kakistocracy – “a system of government run by the worst, least qualified, or most unscrupulous citizen”. Earlier this month, presidential aide, Bashir Ahmed fired off a tweet: “The federal government has ordered the suspension of all mining activities in Zamfara State with immediate effect”. Not too long after, the inspector general of Police issued a statement attributing the suspension to: “intelligence reports that clearly established a strong and glaring nexus between the activities of armed bandits and illicit miners.” Where has the government been since the slaughter began?

Nigeria sits atop large deposits of minerals like gold, columbite, tin, zinc, etc. According to Reuters, “80 percent of mining in Nigeria is carried out on an artisanal basis”. Gold in Zamfara is routinely smuggled out of the country illegally to neighbouring Niger and Togo. Artisanal mining is not new. The formal industrial scale mining sector evolved from informal artisanal mining in the United States, Canada, and many endowed countries in the developed world. What is instructive is that they learnt lessons from the California Gold Rush and formalised their mining sectors through licensing and access to markets. Unfortunately, Nigeria does not learn from the mistakes of others nor benchmark the best in practices. The mining sector in Nigeria mirrors our national life; it is controlled by a curious mix of elite exploiters, traditional rulers and sophisticated criminal gang of terrorcapitalists (terrorists who depend on mineral resources to fund their operations).

Since funds from crude oil is easier than prospecting for minerals with the heavy capital involvement, Nigeria became a fertile ground for illegal miners. The kakistocrats are unconcerned and happy to leave the “chump change” from mining to their friends and or families to keep them busy. Outside crude oil, which the oil majors produce on our behalf, they have no idea of the scale of what Nigeria sits on. We can’t really blame them, as they can’t possibly utilise what they don’t know that they have. While those who should know and tap the potentials for the nation’s benefit are wringing their hands, a 24 year old rookie broker in the London metals exchange has heard about Zamfara, Ifetedo and Ilesa. The quality of gold in Ifetedo, Ife South local government area, is higher than the one in Johannesburg. While the country loses money to individuals and groups involved in mining, the world commodities markets know about coltan and its abundance under Nigeria’s earth. Without coltan, no cellular phone will work. All these pull factors are possibly alien to the Nigerian intelligence agencies, given the mediocrity and incest involved in staffing them. With the incestuous security architecture created by President Buhari, armed Tuaregs guiding illegal prospectors are having a field day stealing, killing and rampaging through ancestral lands. It did not start last year, it is only just escalating. Wherever you find minerals and no regulations, their illegal extraction always lead to armed conflict. Anyone in doubt should recall the California Gold Rush, Zaire since 1960 and Sierra Leone’s blood diamonds.

In an analysis published last week by Reuters, billions of dollars worth of gold is smuggled out of Africa through the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to Europe and the United States, every year. In 2016, $15.1 billion worth of African gold was imported by the United Arab Emirates. Of this amount, $7.4 billion could not be traced by Comtrade.


It is all too sad that the ingredients for chaos are coming together, as several spaces in Nigeria fall under the administration of organised crime. The combination of the apathetic middle class, an unconcerned moneyed elite, debased academics, miseducated and values-deprived student bodies, to the greedy and power hungry politicians, points to a country that is ripe for picking. Enquiring minds will wonder: Why is the Nigerian state afraid to bring killers to justice? Why is a country with a balance of payment disequilibrium happy to forego hundreds millions of dollars worth of foreign exchange earnings, taxes and the attendant multiplier effects? Something is not adding up. In an analysis published last week by Reuters, billions of dollars worth of gold is smuggled out of Africa through the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to Europe and the United States, every year. In 2016, $15.1 billion worth of African gold was imported by the United Arab Emirates. Of this amount, $7.4 billion could not be traced by Comtrade. Nigeria is one of those countries whose gold export data is unavailable to Comtrade or any other formal channel. UAE is on a roll as a favourite destination for Nigeria’s money. Stolen money has helped fuel the UAE housing boom and now hand-carried gold by smugglers from Nigeria is it.

The Loss To Nigeria Is Staggering

Apart from the loss of income to the nation in the form of taxes and royalties, artisanal mining operations use child labour and
mercury, a toxic metal, to extract metal ores. Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) have been treating children suffering from lead poisoning in Zamfara since 2010. Unsafe mining and ore processing have been fingered as the root causes of the lead poisoning crisis in the State. Many Zamfara children have died, while others are going through the slow process of detoxification and facing severe mental retardation after exposure to toxic lead. Nigerian gold is not only mined with child labour, it falls under the label of conflict minerals trafficked through organised crime.

…the raison d’etre for the criminal enterprises running these mines is the lack of regulation and oversight. Their mission is to extract all they can without paying taxes, royalties, caring for the environment nor spending money on the health and safety of their miners, most of who are ignorant of the hazardous nature of mining.


In a country with spiraling unemployment, one would have thought that the government would professionalise artisanal mining as a vector for wealth transfer. Nope! Instead, this has become a security nightmare, a source of mercury pollution, deforestation, biodiversity loss and armed conflicts. Of course the raison d’etre for the criminal enterprises running these mines is the lack of regulation and oversight. Their mission is to extract all they can without paying taxes, royalties, caring for the environment nor spending money on the health and safety of their miners, most of who are ignorant of the hazardous nature of mining.

Now that the so called “bandits” of Zamfara have relocated to the State of Oṣun, the people should guard themselves and plan to secure their lands and lives from these marauders. Many of these Tuaregs have built homes on ancestral lands and are bent on displacing or killing the owners if they resist. The people should not bank on the kakistocrats to defend them with the instruments of state security. Its quite unfortunate that even traditional rulers are part of this criminal enterprise. Nigerians in this part of the country should not let themselves be killed, as done to many in Zamfara. They should brace themselves for life in the mud and dust under the kakistocrats. They must plan organised resistance!

Bámidélé Adémólá-Olátéjú a farmer, youth advocate and political analyst writes this weekly column, “Bamidele Upfront” for PREMIUM TIMES. Follow me on Twitter @olufunmilayo